Intermodal container stations – security gates

DB International_Security-Gates_Picture 1Together with operators of (road-rail) container stations, Deutsche Bahn wants to introduce stringent security and surveillance measures for arriving and departing containers, swap containers and road semi-trailers. To achieve this, experts from different disciplines at DB International have developed a security gate. The following is a description of which tasks and functions can be realistically implemented and which special features must be taken into account for railway operations.

Container stations act as an interface between transport routes linking rail, road and water. This is where containers, swap containers and road semi-trailers, which are used to store physical assets of considerable value as well as hazardous materials, are transloaded. Operators must secure the loading units against theft and misuse, and implement surveillance and security measures for loading units that are not classified as hazardous materials. These requirements conflict with the fact that container stations are often only supervised by a small number of staff concentrated in central buildings. Consistent and comprehensive surveillance of the container station using these limited resources is, therefore, not possible.

Challenges to be solved

Container stations present the following security challenges, many of which can be solved using the automated mechanisms of a security gate: – unauthorised entry of loading units, – carrier departs from the container station with the wrong loading unit, – damage to loading units, – theft of and from loading units, – too many manual processes when loading units arrive and depart and no visual access to the crane track and storage areas. The term “security gate” is thus very broad and refers more to a system than to an actual gate.

Special features of railway traffic

Railway traffic in container stations has a number of special features. Today’s trains are mostly electric and are powered by a voltage of 15,000 V from an overhead contact line. Electric railway operations require that special protection be provided for equipment located in the contact line wire zone. The wire zone ends 4 metres from the track centre line.
Clearance gauges are prescribed for railway traffic that must be kept clear of any equipment. This imposes restrictions regarding the installation of technical equipment in the vicinity of the track. In addition, road-rail crossings are subject to special regulations.
Closing trackside access to a container station by means of a gate is only possible to a limited degree and has a negative impact on measures to prevent theft.

Tasks and functions of the security gate

Before the security gate was implemented, the following tasks and functions were defined in a specification document: Identification of vehicles entering the container station, Identification of vehicles exiting the container station, Visual documentation of the associated loading units for the vehicles, Visual documentation of the loading units of the rail vehicles, Automatic control of the barrier system for vehicles, Possibility of viewing the crane track and trackworks and Perimeter security and video surveillance of the premises, especially during shutdown periods.
The processes for dispatching and handling the loading units should be made leaner; certain manual process steps should even be eliminated. One example of this involves automating the time-consuming and error-prone process of visually inspecting loading units by documenting their arrival and departure with a video system. Manual opening of the barrier to allow the unit to enter or exit will, in future, be handled automatically by means of vehicle registration plate recognition.

Security gate interfaces

An analysis of the challenges to be solved and the tasks to be fulfilled reveals that at least the following technical equipment and systems of a container station must interface with the security gate: Operations control system of the container station (e.g. BLU, MODALITY), Data network (structured cabling, switches, WLAN), Barrier system, Voice communication between the barrier and logistics scheduling building and Power supply system.
The hardware interfaces are largely known and standardised. This is not, however, the case with the software interfaces. It is essential, therefore, that the provider of the operations control system is involved in the project from the very beginning.

Security gate technology

Externally visible elements include first and foremost video cameras and masts. These essentially incorporate the following functional groups: Vehicle registration plate recognition, Barrier control, Video documentation of the loading units, Documentation (archive), Interface server to the operations control system, Crane track surveillance, Networking (LAN, TCP/IP) and Power supply/earthing.
However, the security gate also includes the necessary software to operate the various interfaces and configure the process sequences.
Special attention must be paid to vehicle registration plate recognition during the planning stage, particularly in the case of winding access roads leading up the barrier and when the space available for installing equipment is confined. The mounting height, viewing angle, camera type and adequate lighting are critical if registration plate recognition is to be successful. Barrier control is implemented by means of a programmable logic controller (PLC) that can be customised for different types of gate.
Arriving and departing loading units are documented by means of CCTV video cameras. To be able to detect the side of a loading unit, there must be a certain distance between the camera and loading unit. This applies, in particular, to loading units that are transported by rail. The number of video images recorded as the loading unit passes through can be configured. The positions of the cameras, masts and foundations must, therefore, be defined early on in the planning stage.
The video images are stored on the video server. This documentation protects the operator of the container station against unjustified claims in the event of damage to the loading units. It is currently not possible to document all sides of the loading unit.
The interface server to the operations control system comprises a firewall function for separating the operations control system and security gate. Suitable formats and attributes have been defined for exchanging data between the operations control system and security gate.
Dome cameras on 12-metre video masts are used for crane track surveillance. The operations control system was adapted to enable the dome cameras to be controlled manually. The extent to which this feature can be used may be restricted considerably by legal requirements.
Perimeter security should be implemented in the form of fixed fences, linear infrared surveillance or thermal imaging cameras. Container stations are not usually manned during shutdown periods which means that alarms triggered by an intrusion can be saved but direct and immediate response is not possible. The possible technical measures that can be implemented here presuppose that the necessary financial resources are available, which can usually only be secured for larger projects.
All functional groups of the security gate communicate via Ethernet and TCP/IP. Fibre-optic technology is used for this purpose, especially in container stations that cover a large area. This also achieves a certain degree of protection against overvoltage conditions in the network. During planning and implementation, attention should be paid to the correct choice of fibre-optic cable (EN 50173), connector system and media converters.
Each individual location of a functional group must be powered separately. For this purpose, protected circuits of the logistic scheduling building and transformer stations of the crane track are used to limit the lengths and diameters of the power supply cables.

Blue-print solution at the Nuremberg container station

Numerous tests and a great deal of coordination were required to draft the initial designs of a security gate and finally implement the blue-print solution at the Nuremberg container station of Deutsche Bahn AG. In certain cases, systems that worked perfectly in the laboratory did not perform as required on site.
Various constraints must be observed when security gates are planned and implemented. For example, integrating a security gate requires extensive intervention in the existing operations control system. Without the cooperation of the supplier of the operations control system, only part of the security gate functionality can, therefore, be implemented.
Off-the shelf systems for registration plate recognition, video surveillance and perimeter security are readily available. None of these systems can, however, be integrated by “plug and play” into existing container stations. Using existing network systems sometimes gave rise to space and earthing problems. Furthermore, the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) for the video server required an installation depth of 100 centimetres which is not available in every 19” cabinet.
To maintain the prescribed distance between the loading unit and video camera, camera masts had to be installed and cables routed on third-party land. This, however, required the corresponding approvals to be attained and extensive coordination work, causing delays in the planning and implementation process. Moreover, privacy protection laws clearly specify how video systems are to be designed, requiring suitable agreements to be reached with employees, works councils and residents.


The security gate is a system for increasing security upon entry into the container station using vehicle registration plate recognition, improving damage prevention through video documentation, increasing security in the crane track area by means of dome cameras and for increasing protection against theft through perimeter security.
In this context, one of the most important challenges that must be addressed when the system is configured is that the interfaces between the security gate and operations control system function correctly. Unfortunately, security-related aspects are still not given the necessary attention even when an entirely new container station is being designed (preliminary planning stage). The necessary investment funding is not available and implementing these aspects at a later stage is only possible to a limited degree in terms of space and technology.

[ by Olaf Matthäi
Chief Expert TK/IT, DB International GmbH, ] Share on: